The Self-Destruction of an American President

As a history major, the Spirited Reasoner has been forced to search his memory this week. Was there ever a moment when a U. S. President worked so hard to scuttle his own presidency?

For those of you my age and older, the back-to-back presidencies of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon come to mind. Both men self-destructed, but in very different ways from each other, and in nowhere near the fashion we are witnessing in the case of Donald Trump.

To LBJ’s great credit, he recognized the futility of continuing to fight against a tide largely of his own making. While arguably one of our most productive presidents in terms of socially progressive legislation (including Medicare, Medicaid, the Voting Rights Act, and a “War on Poverty”), his legacy will always be tainted by the ever-increasing body count of Allied troops and civilians during the Vietnam War, after promising the American people that the war would not be “another Korea.” He chose not to seek reelection in 1968.

Richard Nixon, on the other hand, seemed unable to grasp the simple fact that a majority of American people wanted to reelect him in 1972.  After all, he had opened diplomatic doors to China that had been closed to the West for centuries, and he had begun the process of winding down the Vietnam War. Plagued by a lack of self-esteem, and acting under the mistaken belief that he would lose the election unless his campaign team resorted to illegal tactics, Nixon authorized the espionage, sabotage, and coverup that later became known as the Watergate Conspiracy.

What makes the cases of Johnson and Nixon so different from that of Donald Trump is their respect for democracy. Both men understood that they had become unpopular, and that the erosion of their political base made it untenable to continue their respective careers.

In the case of Donald Trump, there is no such respect for the majority of American voters.

Yesterday, President Trump tweeted that “Our great companies are ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China …,” as if a U. S. President has the legal authority to order private companies around. This tweet was sent on a day when our Stock Market was reeling from news of increasing tariffs against China, and North Korea launched yet another missile that landed in the Sea of Japan. Meanwhile, called the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board an “enemy” and railed against the Prime Minister of Denmark—the leader of a long-time friend of the United States—after she called his offer to buy Greenland “absurd.”

It is time for all of us to begin watching this man closely. He appears to be coming unraveled. His remarks consistently support one-party rule (because Democrats are enemies and losers), expensive military parades, and even the notion that he is “the chosen one.” (See video replays of his rambling remarks to reporters about China.)

Fortunately, our government is one of laws and not leaders. We are a nation strong enough to endure the occasional flukes imposed upon us by our outmoded Electoral College.